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[WHAT] What to do when you don't know what to do

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

We've all been stuck at one point or another. In the Before Times (pre-COVID), you may have already heard these words come out of your mouth:

"I want to do something else.....but I'm not sure what."
"I hate my job but I can't think of anything that's better."
"I have no idea what I want to do when I grow up--- and I'm a grown up!"

This time a year ago, I ran a virtual workshop with adult career changers that were looking for guidance on their next move. Adult career changers/folks who are unemployed are a challenging group.*t is real for this group. There is a lot at stake, there are many routes to choose from while time is becoming a scarer resource by the day, and identity and sense of worth are typically depleted over the period of time spent looking for work (not to mention trying to find meaningful work). I wasn't sure where to start, so I introduced the concept of "flow", the psychological state of being fully engaged in an activity (so engaged, in fact, that time seems to pass in the blink of an eye). No one's problems were solved as a result of this conversation, but after our time together, the group had energy and my attendees lit up when asked to recall the last time they did something they loved.

Fast forward to now: It seems a bit privileged these days to desire meaningful work, am I right? I mean, it's kind of laughable how much we took for granted. The general ennui we experienced at our daily jobs while taking literally everything that involved being around people for granted. What I wouldn't do now for a mundane trip to Target with my two little boys. Oh how I miss the mundane! How I miss people's workplace humor in the break-room. I should have laughed harder at the office puns back then!

Shouldn't our focus be purely on survival right now? Things have changed since then. It's bleak out there. Women are leaving the workforce in droves, 10 million people are unemployed, the flame that was the mental health crisis grew into an inferno, food scarcity is skyrocketing, we are working at home and living from work, and our life expectancy went down a year.

We've spent a full year dealing with stress pile-up. Surrounded by deaths we weren't able to grieve properly, successes we weren't able to celebrate properly, stresses we don't even hav the words for, and perhaps excessive amounts of time with our children that we weren't able to enjoy properly. We've been through hell. The lucky ones have been able to keep their jobs, even the shitty ones. If you got a new job, a promotion and/or raise...don't even try to start complaining about that. You hit the pandemic jackpot. You should be grateful.

Are we even allowed to desire meaningful work anymore?

I'm going to say yes and no. We are allowed to still want more. We are still allowed to still pursue our dreams. And, in fact, wouldn't the opposite be a waste of all that the pandemic has taught us? When I asked my college sophomores in the Winter '21 term how they pandemic has impacted their career plans, they reported that they vow to take advantage of every opportunity that arrises in the future. Their hunger to soak up life was palpable.

You might be thinking: Well, that's great, but I'm a grown up and I have a job that I'm barely clinging onto.

And to that I say: No one is asking you to quit your day job (in fact, that's a terrible idea even in the Before Times). But I will offer what I believe to be true regardless of the state of COVID-19, and that's this: Adding one small thing that lights you up into your routine can permeate into everything else that you do. Have a shitty job? Doing something you love for even 1 hour a week can make the other 40+ hours of that job less shitty. And: you might be surprised by the opportunities that come your way because of the positive momentum you have created (and the experience you build over time that can go onto your resume, perhaps, and the people you meet along the way).

If you're wondering what that 1 thing could be, I'm going to challenge you to listen to that voice that just popped into your mind. You know what that 1 thing could be.

What's the first thing that popped into your mind? Here's a hint: When's the last time you experienced flow?

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